1) Andrew Bynum’s Presence Is Exploitable
For all the talk about how much tougher Pau Gasol has become since the Lakers’ embarrassing defeat to the Celtics in 2008, you couldn’t tell the difference last night.
Don’t get me wrong, Gasol has actually come a long way. He’s become much more aggressive on the boards, reportedly added over 15 more pounds of muscle in the 2008 off-season and the 19 points and 18 rebounds he added in Game 7 were tough, scrappy and hard-fought.
Gasol was a far cry from that last night.
He couldn’t seem to hold on the ball whether he was going up for an errant shot or throwing a wayward pass, it seemed like there was literally a slippery, slick substance on Gasol’s hands preventing him from maintaining a better grip on the ball.
None of his three fouls were well spent, and although he managed to secure an impressive 20 rebounds, it seemed that every rebound he didn’t get turned into a bucket for the Nuggets. Denver finished with an inexcusable 54 total points in the paint.
Lamar Odom is actually undersized for a 4 (although noticeably bigger than most 3’s) and was unable to contribute much to the Lakers’ interior defense.
2) The Lakers Are Still Not Without Their Offensive Struggles
Though the Lakers average a league-leading 112 points per game, they dry spells they suffered in Denver allowed the Nuggets to hang around and eventually win a game that the Lakers could have run away with.
It starts with the execution.
The Lakers threw up 29 three pointers yesterday. 29. That’s more Phoenix Suns style basketball than the hard-nosed smash mouth basketball the Lakers won the NBA title with last year.
With Kobe Bryant struggling from the floor yesterday it didn’t seem as though anyone could create their own shot and the only reason the Lakers were able to pout out their season average of 112 points was because of the second chance opportunities that came with +13 rebound advantage they secured in the game.
Outside of fast breaks, the Lakers had no mid to close range game yesterday. The only positive things the Lakers can take from Thursday’s loss was Ron Artest’s increasing comfort in the offense and the budding potential of Shannon Brown.
3) Kobe Bryant Is Reasonably Healthy
When Kobe drove past Chauncey Billups and threw down a two hand slam, it wasn’t as powerful as a LeBron James jam, but was still a bigger a dunk than we’ve seen from Kobe in quite some time.
Though he did have major offensive struggles during the game, it really comes with the territory with Bryant.
Some nights he can’t miss, others he’ll still finish with 30 points -- but it takes him 40 shots to get there. Nothing catastrophic here though, the Nuggets have defended Bryant as well as any team not named the Celtics over the last two years.
As far as his Bryant’s current health, there’s nothing to worry about. That dunk is something Bryant wouldn’t have even attempted last June.
4) The Lakers Are A Deeper Team Than Last Year
Point blank: a performance like this from Bryant and Gasol would have resulted in a Nugget blowout last year. The only things that really kept the game close were the live-and-die by the three point shot attitude the Lakers took on, particularly in the second half, the offensive production by Ron Artest and again, the development of Shannon Brown.
Matt Barnes didn’t burn down the barn in any singular area but did manage to make his imprint on the game on a number of ways, notching 6 points, 3 assists and 3 boards. The stats didn’t really do the man justice though, aside from a few ticky-tack fouls called on him, he was a big part of that spurt that gave the Lakers their first major lead of the game, a 38-30 Laker lead in the second quarter.
Ultimately, this is a much deeper Laker team and when Andrew Bynum returns and Odom takes on his role as the team’s sixth man, they’ll have arguably the deepest bench in basketball.
Though it won’t matter much until they step things up on the defensive end.